Donaldson not aware of any SF ‘side deal’

Jeffrey Donaldson reacts as Gerry Kelly claims Sinn Fein were involved in side talks with the UK government on releasing funds for legacy inquests. Photo: BBC The View
Jeffrey Donaldson reacts as Gerry Kelly claims Sinn Fein were involved in side talks with the UK government on releasing funds for legacy inquests. Photo: BBC The View

The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he was not aware of an alleged side deal which Sinn Fein claims to have secured with London to release funding for legacy inquests.

In 2016 the Lord Chief Justice requested £10m for inquests into 50 Troubles related deaths, however the money has not yet been released.

On the BBC’s ‘The View’ on Thursday Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly claimed his party had reached an agreement with London to release the money.

He insisted the DUP had been aware of the side talks, happening in parallel to those on Irish language legislation, which a surprised Mr Donaldson “absolutely” rejected.

The row began when Mr Kelly said legacy issues were the priority to break the deadlock. “Give the money to the Lord Chief Justice, he has nothing to do with politics, let him get on with that,” he said.

London had also agreed that a statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions would not be part of a forthcoming public consultation on legacy issues, he added.

But Mr Donaldson said his party were not aware of any such side deal: “I am our party’s representative on legacy issues and I am certainly not aware of - and was not aware of - the government agreeing with Sinn Fein that they were going to hand over money for inquests.”

Responding to claims he had been left “out in the cold” by his own party, Mr Donaldson told presenter Mark Carruthers: “Hold on - you are accepting a version of events from Gerry Kelly”.

The MP insisted that internal DUP communications were “excellent” and rejected suggestions that he had been “blindsided” by his own party.

Mr Carruthers challenged Mr Kelly to produce evidence to prove his claims “because otherwise we just have to take your word for it”.

But Mr Kelly responded that he was not authorised to do so, to which Mr Carruthers replied that it was therefore his word against Sir Jeffrey’s that any deal had been done.

The Northern Ireland Office issued a statement about the row on Friday, stating that all discussions with parties were conditional on an overall deal - and that it had announced £140m as long ago as 2014 to support legacy reform.